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Let's take a closer look at what real foods are and what they contain. Food contains nutrients, which might be regarded as food for cells. They are essential for growth, development, reproduction, repair and rejuvenation.
Nutrients can be grouped into two categories:
- Macro or "big" nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They provide calories, which, in turn, provide energy for the body. In addition, proteins and fats have other important roles besides providing energy. Macronutrients are needed in relatively large amounts, from several grams to over 100g a day.
- Micro or "small" nutrients include vitamins and minerals. They help your body utilise macronutrients and they are also essential for various body functions. The amounts needed are small, measured in milligrams or micrograms. Then there are phytonutrients, meaning "plant nutrients". A single fruit or vegetable may have over 10,000 different phytonutrients. Only a small number of phytonutrients have been studied and they are known to protect us against disease and degeneration.
such as water, fibre and friendly bacteria are also important. Although they do not provide any calories or beneficial chemical compounds, they are vital to health. These nutrients and non-nutrients will be discussed more fully in Part II.
While foods contain nutrients, they may also contain natural toxins. Often, animals and plants develop these toxins to protect themselves from being eaten by predators.
Powerful toxins can cause almost instant death. Yet they may be safe or even beneficial in very small amounts. For example, apple, apricot and some other plant seeds contain arsenic, which is highly toxic. But the amounts are very small and possibly medicinal.
Mild toxins cause problems only after many years of regular intake. For example, long-term consumption of aluminium leads to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's disease.
Allergens affect only a small number of people who may react violently, while most other people have no problems eating the same foods.
These natural toxins, usually from plant foods, can cause a range of effects. Irritants are toxins that irritate and damage the mucus lining of the intestines, causing a condition called leaky gut syndrome. This makes the intestines more permeable, allowing partially digested proteins, called peptides, to enter the bloodstream. Harmful microorganisms will enter as well.
Can also cause leaky gut but their main effect is that they block the body's absorption of other nutrients. Almost all plant foods - including grains, beans and most vegetables - contain anti-nutrients.
Fortunately, most of these anti-nutrients can be destroyed or at least minimised. In most cases, simple cooking is enough. In the case of soybeans, very elaborate processes are needed, including soaking, long cooking and fermentation.
Sprouting also helps. But while sprouts may no longer contain anti-nutrients associated with seeds and beans, they often contain anti-nutrients associated with sprouts and leaves.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.